The global mining industry faces a number of challenges today, but modern digital communications solutions can play a major role in helping to overcome some of these difficulties. Mining has become increasingly complex and although the industry does exploit new technology, including automation of machinery, haulage systems, trains and trucks, too often these technologies operate in isolation. Information technology, operational technology and other devices and systems are not integrated in a way that makes the most of them.
The list of features and processes that can benefit from communications technology and automation in mining is now impressively long.
Applications include: in-pit autonomous haulage systems; autonomous drill systems; push-to-talk voice and push-to-talk video and dispatch systems; driverless freight train control; anti-collision systems; in-pit proximity detection; CCTV; high-precision GPS applications such as geo-fencing; slope monitoring and rockface/ground penetrating radar.
Other applications in use are: vehicle, machinery and drill/excavator fleet management and telemetry (e.g. scheduling/task assignments, guidance/positioning, equipment problem identification/avoidance, remote diagnostics, speed, tire pressure, temperature, fuel/oil/brake fluid levels, load measurement, GPS-based precision excavating); SCADA systems and sensors; dust suppression using automated sprinklers, control valves and a wireless control system; and applications for field force automation.
Mining companies also need to harness Big Data analytics to provide “real, applicable insights from data and sharing them clearly and effectively with the right levels of the organization”, as this will help “provide real-time decision support and future projections”, argues the WEF report.
Big data and predictive analytics not only provide a competitive advantage by enabling faster and more accurate decision making, but they also help to minimize unplanned downtime by ensuring timely maintenance of vehicles, excavators, drills and other assets before a major machine failure that could hold up production.
Safety is one of the main areas where communications technology can really improve accident rates and save lives. Poor safety compliance can lead to stoppages that directly impact operational production and profitability, while worker compensation packages and regulatory fines can end up being more expensive than the cost of prevention.
A wide range of safety tools are now available for use in mining. Modern technology can support active, real-time surveillance of people, machinery and mine conditions, including air quality and tunnel, slope stability. Constant two-way communications systems are a must to enable miners, support teams and control rooms to be in continuous contact.